When one thinks of the criminal justice system, they might tend to think of the offenders—their criminal act, how they are investigated and/or arrested, their legal proceedings and the correctional repercussions for breaking the law.
There is an important group of criminal justice professionals that instead focuses on those victimized by crime. They may carry various titles—such as “victim services specialist”, “victim advocate”, “hate crime specialist” and more); and they may work for a governmental victim assistance program (such as at the county, state or even national level, i.e. for the FBI), as well as for a non-profit organization and other employers.
Victim Specialists’ Role
Victim advocates or specialists fulfill a variety of roles to help meet the physical, emotional, financial and legal needs of the people they serve.
For example, Debra Young (recently profiled by The Journal’s Michelle Horst) has been a senior victim advocate with Jefferson County, West Virginia, for 13 years. “The Victim Assistance Program [that Young works for] works with crime victims, primarily those of violent crimes, from the time of the initial criminal complaint, to keep them informed of everything going on with the case, even sending advocates to attend hearings with the victims if necessary,” reported Horst. Examples of Young’s other professional functions have included helping victims access essential resources (including medical cost coverage, counseling and shelter) and working with families who have lost a loved one to violent crime.
Cook County (Illinois) state’s attorney’s LGBTQ and hate crimes specialist, Alicia Oeser, is dedicated to providing a safe and respectful environment to those she works with and to facilitate the process of them accessing the services and guidance they need. “Having access to the right language to make sure I’m not accidentally alienating somebody by using terms with the wrong gender pronouns or anything like that,” said Oeser in a recent interview with Steven Chaitman of The Windy Times. “So that’s kind of my job, to make sure those conversations are happening with victims in a way that is totally sensitive to them.” Oeser added, “That’s my job, to have LGBT-specific referrals to other parts of our community, whether it’s entertainment, or counseling, or civil litigation services, health services…”
There are ample training opportunities for those wishing to work with victims of a crime (or for those who already hold related positions and wish to expand their knowledge and skills).
For example, there are some Associate and Bachelor degrees in Victim Services. There are also academic certificate programs for those who already have a degree (i.e. in Criminal Justice, Social Work, Psychology etc.). Additionally, there are various victim assistance organizations, from the National Victim Assistance Academy to National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA), as well as state level organizations that offer relevant educational programs. These are not necessarily limited to aspiring or practicing victim advocates—law enforcement, correctional and judicial professionals also might benefit from specializing in this area.
For more information on agencies/organizations that offer victim assistance services, visit the NOVA’s State Advocacy List page. (NOVA is the oldest national charitable organization of its kind that also offers, along with relevant training, credentialing programs).